Crossing generations and race, tears flooded eyes, shouts filled the air and voices broke into song as thousands stood united in Washington on Saturday to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March.
Known as the Millions More Movement, tens of thousands of people flooded the National Mall in Washington to remember the principles of unity celebrated by the previous march.
Along with the marchers, 61 University students traveled to Washington and participated in the event. The opportunity was sponsored by the Black Student Union, Alpha Phi Alpha, the School of Social Work and the University’s chapter of the NAACP.
“To see the masses of people marching was breathtaking,” said Riana Anderson, president of the University chapter of the NAACP.
Like the Million Man March, the movement focused on issues facing blacks nationwide. Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who helped organize the previous march, spoke at the rally on the delays in relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina victims.
“For five days, the government did not act. Lives were lost,” Farrakhan said. “We charge America with criminal neglect.”
Ten years ago, the Million Man March was started by black men who gathered to advocate brotherhood within the black community.
“The march symbolized a group of people getting over their differences and individual beliefs,” said Gerald Duncan, co-chair of the Michigan Student Assembly’s Minority Affairs Commission.
The 1995 rally was one of the largest in Washington’s history. The march that took place on Saturday has been named “part two” of the movement.
Duncan said the people at the march were not only celebrating unity but also trying to figure out ways to break the system of problems and challenges that have been woven into American society.
“There’s still a lot of disparities in minority communities in comparison to the mainstream white American community,” Duncan said. “The march represents a coming together to address the issues that are still causing those disparities.”
Because much racism is “no longer overt,” he added, many people forget about institutionalized racism.
Yesterday Duncan wore a T-shirt he received at the march, advocating positive mobilization of communities and the power of the individual. He said his trip to Washington changed his outlook not only on the black community, but on the power he possesses as an individual.
NAACP spokeswoman Chantal Cotton said she was proud that the group of University students that attended the march was composed of a diverse set of ethnicities.
“I thought it was great that not only African-American students saw the importance of attending the march, but we also had Hispanic and Caucasian students with us,” Cotton said. “And the whole purpose of the trip is positive in the sense that all the different students came together to march.”
Anderson agreed that the diverse group of students made the trip satisfying. “The fact that all these organizations were on the bus together signified the message behind the march, which is unity,” she said.
She added that the main learning experience was not only physically participating in the march, but also listening to the many speakers during the event.
Speakers at the march included Russell Simmons, Jesse Jackson, Erykah Badu, Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan.
“The main theme behind each speaker at the event was the power beheld by every individual and how, if we organize together, we can make changes in our community,” Anderson said.
She said she wants to bring this theme of unity back to the University. For example, Anderson said in addition to holding events such as movie screenings, student organizations need to think about what else they could be doing that could better improve their community in a constructive way.
“Everybody can learn how a group of people can bring an issue to a nation’s forefront just by coming together and voicing their feelings,” Duncan said. “There’s power in numbers.”
– The Associated Press contributed to this report.